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Safety Instructions for Being There for a Woman Who Lost Her Only Child to Adoption - Guest Post

{In the decades before Roe v Wade, in an era prevailed, now called The Baby Scoop, where a majority percentage of unplanned pregnancies ended in adoption. Ann Fessler in her brilliantly heartbreaking book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade, summarizes:

"Just about everyone who lived through this era has a memory of a girl from their high school, college, or neighborhood who disappeared. If she returned, she most likely did not come back with her baby but with a story of a sick aunt or an illness that had kept her out of school. If her peers doubted her story, they probably did not challenge her directly. They simply distanced themselves. According to the prevailing double standard, the young man who was equally responsible for the pregnancy was not condemned for his actions.

The girls who went away were told by family members, social-service agencies, and clergy that relinquishing their child for adoption was the only acceptable option. It would preserve their reputation and save both mother and child from a lifetime of shame. Often it was clear to everyone, except the expectant mother, that adoption was the answer.

...Though moving on and forgetting proved impossible, many women were shamed into keeping their secret. The secrecy has, in part, allowed some of the old myths about women who surrendered babies to survive. One assumption was that they were women who were having a lot of sex with a lot of different young men. In fact, a majority of the women I interviewed became pregnant with their first sexual partner, some from their first sexual experience.

Another prevailing myth is that these women were all eager to surrender their child and be free of their problem. The assumption that these babies were unwanted by their mothers is ubiquitous. The act of relinquishment seemed to confirm this, since it is commonly believed to be a personal decision made by the mother based on her lack of interest or desire to parent - a decision that is independent of social, family, and economic pressures. This misguided and simplistic notion has been harmful not only to the mothers but also to many adoptees who believe that they were thrown away.

Yet another myth in common currency is that these women did move on and forget. In truth, none of the mothers I interviewed was able to forget. Rather, they describe the surrender of their child as the most significant and defining event of their lives. Given the enormous number of women involved and the impact the surrender had on their lives, not to mention the lives of their parents, their subsequent partners and children, the fathers of their babies, and the surrendered children, it is remarkable that so little is known about these mothers' experiences even now, decades later. This silence has also kept many of these women from learning about one another and understanding that their feelings of loss were normal and consistent with thousands of other mothers who had surrendered children." - Ann Fessler

Eileen's story comes in the years following the Baby Scoop, when societal practices and beliefs still held strong. So many, upon hearing such tragic stories, ask "What can we do?" Here are some instructions for starters:}

Safety instructions for being there for a woman who lost her only child to adoption

Eileen Drennen

DO NOT attempt to talk her out of her grief.

DO NOT suggest she should be “over it by now.”

DO NOT ask her how long she will carry her sorrow.

DO NOT say, “it was for the best” or “you were so brave and generous” or “you should be proud of yourself for putting your baby’s needs first!”

DO NOT offer that meeting her son when he turned 21 was “a happy ending.”

DO NOT ask why she never had other children.

DO NOT suggest her son wasn’t harmed by their separation.

DO NOT share your idea that, “adoption looks to be win/win for everyone!”

DO NOT tell her your cousin or co-worker surrendered a child to adoption “with no regrets.”

DO NOT say “this was all in God’s plan.”

DO NOT ask her if she’s ever heard of birth control.

DO NOT ask why she didn’t get her father to “make the guy marry” her.

DO NOT ask why she didn’t wait until marriage to “go all the way.”

DO NOT try to calm her down.

DO give her space.

DO make her a cup of tea. Sit next to her on the couch. Let her feel the warmth of your shoulder next to yours.